Now Kynde me avenge: Emotion and the Love of Vengeance in Piers Plowman
This essay explores L’s theory of justice, particularly as it relates to violent acts of revenge and the complex processes of emotion that drive them. Its starting point is the ambiguity underlying Conscience’s call for vengeance in the final lines of the poem (B.XX.385-86): ‘Now Kynde me avenge, | And sende me hap and heele, til I have Piers the Plowman.’ In order to understand what kind of vengeance Conscience seeks, Pfrenger examines L’s treatment of vengeance as a form of justice elsewhere in the poem, surveying his treatment of characters who lash out in anger at the abuses and perceived injustices they encounter. L’s handling of these characters and his emphasis on their emotional state reveals a growing discomfort in the poem with acts of vengeance, which inevitably unleash the violent potential of society. By contextualizing L’s exploration of the impulse toward vengeance within contemporary literature and influential moral theology, Pfrenger argues for a theory of justice that includes a considered awareness of human psychology, specifically the influence of negative emotions like hatred and anger. Viewed in light of these factors, Conscience’s call for vengeance becomes a cry for Mercy and Love in society. Pfrenger concludes that L encourages a reimagining of vengeance that transforms it from a violent act of personal and retributive justice into an act of compassion and restorative justice.
The Chaucer Review, 50:1-2 (2015), 55-87